Summer Practice

By MS_Alberta

Caleb, Derek, and Tom were three good friends about to begin their senior year together. The three had been together since elementary school, meeting through the swim and water polo clubs their hometown offered for kids. The three posed for a picture at the camp their coach had rented for the teams. Caleb in dark blue board shorts with red accents and a large bulge, Derek in blue and white, and Tom in a pair of eye-catching Hawaiian print board shorts, which had been forced upon him by Caleb. Coach Cray had rented the campground for the summer and had invited both his water polo team and his swim team to stay the summer and practice. Nearly everyone invited came; knowing that attendance at the camp would help their own chances at making the team next year. Caleb, Derek, and Tom weren't worried, they had been on JV and had each already been alternates for the varsity teams. They knew they would make the team next year. The only reason they had come was because Coach Cray had asked them to help out with the incoming freshman, sophomores, and juniors. Like most grade school friends, over time the three boys had become exceedingly different people, however, unlike most, they managed to remain close. Caleb, decidedly, the most confident, popular, and outgoing of the group, barely maintained the grades needed to stay on the teams. Derek was an average student: average grades, average intelligence, average life. Tom was exceedingly quiet, and withdrawn, in truth, there were only two reasons anyone ever noticed him at all. One was his baffling friendship with high school royalty, otherwise know as Caleb, and two was his astonishing grades, which essentially guaranteed him admittance to any college in the western world.

For the last three months, Coach Cray had been drilling, pacing, and training his team to be the best. Everything was closely monitored, from how much sleep they got to what kinds of food they could eat. Each boy even had a special assortment of customized vitamins, although three certain boys' supplements were more specialized than they could've imagined.

On the last day of camp, Coach Cray asked the three boys to come to his cabin. He asked them to wait outside while he spoke to each one. Tom was the first to come in. "Tom, you're a good swimmer and a good guy, but I almost never see you smile, or enjoy yourself, you're friend Derek knows how to loosen up, and there's no doubt Caleb does, too. So why are you always left behind?" Tom sat quietly for a moment deciding on how best to respond, "Sir..." he said in the meek voice he always used when addressing teachers, "I don't know why I'm not more like my friends, this is just the way I've always been." "Well, Tom. Would you like to be more like your friends?" asked Coach Cray. Tom nodded a 'yes' "Do you think, if somehow you became more like Caleb, you'd be able to maintain your grades?" continued Coach Cray, and again Tom nodded 'yes'. Coach Cray sat back in his chair and stared right through Tom, making him very nervous. Finally, Coach Cray offered him a drink and asked if he would like to try his hand at a motorcycle. "I've never ridden one before, though, sir." replied Tom, still holding his untouched drink. "Tom, maybe that's what makes your friends the way they are, their willingness to try new things. Go ahead, drink up, and go for a spin." Tom gave the coach a lackluster smile and gulped his drink. Coach Cray showed him to the backdoor of his cabin and opened it, revealing a red Yamaha waiting a couple of yards away. "Go on, see what itís like." He said, handing him the keys. Tom stepped out of the cabin and heard the door close behind him. Coach had gone back in, and all that was left to do, was to get on the bike. Tom made his way over to the cherry red vehicle, with each step becoming more confident, more sure of himself. What he didn't notice was the way his body was changing with each step. His face broadened and his flab thinned away. Half way to the bike, Tom could feel more weight in his step, as his muscle mass began to increase. By the time he mounted the bike, his whole body had shifted from semi-athletic, to that of a full blown fitness model. Instead of feeling afraid of the bike, he felt confident, like it was a task to be overcome. His self-esteem had increased even more than his muscles. He started the machine and tore off through a dirt trail.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Caleb and Derek heard a motorcycle rev and take off behind the coach's cabin. They gave each other a look of puzzlement, but had little time to discus the noise, as Coach Cray's head popped out from the open door and asked Derek in.

"Derek!" Coach Cray welcomed him in a little too loudly, "How are you? Have any trouble with the freshies?" Derek thought this was strange, Coach Cray was usually very business like, friendly, yes, but kind of distant. "Ummm, no trouble with the freshman, Coach. They all seem real eager to get better." At the end of that sentence, Coach Cray gave Derek the same soul inspecting stare he had given Tom moments before. Back in his normal, professional manner, Coach Cray said, "Better? Yes, they do seem like a promising group of young men. And what about you? Would you like to improve yourself?" Derek wasn't sure exactly what Coach meant and his sudden shift in attitude didn't comfort him any. "Uh- Yeah, of course I want to be better in the water." "And out of the water?" asked Coach Cray. "Could you handle self-improvement? Itís not an easy process, you know. Taking the time to re-examine your life, correct old mistakes, face the challenges you were able to side-step in the past." Derek considered this for a moment, and considered the coach. He had heard from others on the team that the coach every so often had deep personal conversations with them, conversations that had really had an impact on their lives. Derek now knew he was having one of those conversations, and that Tom must have had his already, and that Caleb was sitting outside waiting for his. Derek finally answered, "Yes, I can handle it." "That's good to know." Coach Cray responded, a little anti-climactically. He handed Derek a paper cup filled with water and said "Maybe you could begin your self-improvement down at the gully with the incoming Freshman." Derek finished his drink and walked out the back door and off toward the gully. Derek hiked up his sweats; they were beginning to trip him up. As he made his way past the small patch of trees, he noticed that they were bigger than he thought. He finally stepped out of the brush and waved at the group of incoming freshman. He thought to himself, we were never that small, were we? When he approached the group, he froze. He was the same height as most of these boys; some were even taller than him. "Hey, bra, don't freak out, Coach told us a new kid would show up the last day. Besides, were all new too. C'mon, I'll introduce you to the other 8th-, sorry, I mean 9th graders." The group of boys gave a cheer at hearing their new upcoming label as real high schoolers. Derek looked down and began examining his body, his sweats were now about two sizes too big.

Caleb began wondering where his friends had gone. Could they both be in there talking with the coach? Could they be talking about ME? What if I'm not on the team because of my grades from last year and they're trying to figure out the best way to tell me! What if- Caleb's train wreck of thought was wiped out with the sudden appearance of Coach Cray. "Caleb? Is everything alright?" asked the Coach, seeing Caleb breathing hard and panic in his eyes. "Coach! Tell me now! Am I being dropped from the team because of my grades?!" Coach Cray rubbed the head of his star swimmer. "No, Caleb. I'm not dropping you from the team because of your grades, though they could stand to improve." Caleb let out all the air he was holding in his lungs. "You were really concerned that that was the reason I had called you hear, weren't you?" Coach Cray inquired. "Yeah... Yes. I've always been worried about my scores. I don't let the other guys see it, but I always think I wonít make the cut because I've screwed up so much." Coach Cray said, "Caleb, can I ask you something personal?" "Sure, I guess." replied Caleb. "When do you think things started to get this way for you? I'm not talking about when you started worrying, but when this really began, when your effort in your work stopped?" Coach Cray said all these things, with the same stare that had unnerved the other two boys. Caleb was quiet for a long time, and stared at the ground searching his memory for the moment he gave up. Caleb looked up at Coach Cray in the eye and said, "It must have been 7th grade. I just didn't know my classes there would affect me now." He said, "I didn't know anything." "Good." Said Coach Cray. Caleb was speechless, he had just bared his soul to Coach Cray, and all he could say was "good"! The coach handed him a small drink and told him to go think about the last 5 years out on the lake. Caleb, thoroughly confused, drained the cup and shuffled off. Caleb walked to the pier and sat up on the posts. After his conversation with the Coach he had begun to feel small and afraid. He sat there thinking about how much time he had wasted and how his whole life could've been so much better if only he tried a little more. Slowly, he began to realize it was never too late, even in his senior year at high school, he could really try, he could really study this year, could take prep-courses for the SATs, he could still make a difference. He began to feel energized, bursting with energy like a little kid. He smirked and struck a pose, whatever happens, he thought to himself, I still have an amazing body. After seeing the bicep on his "amazing body" he promptly fell into the lake.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Coach Cray took the final head count of everyone on the buses. He had come with 120 students; he now left with 118 plus one new student, in total 119. He felt very pleased with himself. It had taken some time to explain to Derek and Caleb what exactly was going on, but by the end, they understood, and he knew in time theyíd come to thank him. Tom on the other hand, needed no explanation, and acted like he didn't care, but Coach Cray knew the boy's brain was as sharp as ever, and had probably already pieced it together. He offered Tom the explanation of "Growth spurt" to help him explain his change in appearance to his parents. Tom used the excuse and his parents accepted it. None of the other students noticed a change in Tom, mainly because none of the other students ever noticed Tom to begin with. Derek and Caleb's parents had been asked for their permission, because it would directly affect them. The boys were now 14 and 12, respectively. This meant the parents would have to take care of them longer than they thought they would have. Yes, Coach Cray was very satisfied with how everything had turned out. Tom had been given the body and the self-confidence to match his mind, and Derek and Caleb had been given second chances at their academic careers. Caleb's parents had been there to pick him up from the camp, so that the other boys wouldn't question why a 12 year old was riding with them. Coach Cray's mind wandered back to the "vitamins" in his locked bag, and to the odorless, colorless, catalyst agent locked up with them. After a summer of feeding the boys the necessary agents, he could have changed them at any time, but he had really wanted to know if he was doing the right thing. After a conversation with each boy, he was confident that he was.

Coach Cray checked up on Caleb in December. He was receiving top marks in 7th grade and could be seen studying whenever he wasn't in the water with the Jr. High swim team. His swimmer's body was developing quite nicely, with a firm, but small, set of pecs and other muscles taking shape on his young frame, Coach Cray noted he was the shortest on the team, but was the one that applied the most effort. Tom and Derek were doing well, too. Derek's grades had also shot up, with some help from Tom. Tom himself, had become captain of the Water Polo and Swim team, applying his academic skill to creating the best possible plays and line ups for each, not to mention his greatly enhanced physique which helped him out-swim everyone in the water. He had also won numerous competitive scholarships, ensuring that he would have enough money to attend the university of his choice. Coach Cray looked at the group photo from the teamís award potluck. Tom had been given MVP and was standing on the far left, a head above everyone else, Derek was next to him, after receiving the most improved and best new player award. He was shorter and younger than everyone else in the photo.

Coach Cray smiled at the lives he had changed for the better and looked forward to coaching Caleb in another year. He picked up the phone and dialed the camp grounds to reserve his site for the next summer. •

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